Team boob!

Before my last chemo session, I had called to meet with Dr. Beber to discuss adding more saline to my slope-y chest. If I look down to my chest, the expander looks, at times, like it could use some more expansion. In the mirror, I could see the expander is positioned a little higher than where it’s suppose to be but with my clothes on, no one would could tell I had a mastectomy at all. From what I could tell, perhaps if the expander was lowered the lump size would be equal to my other breast. Whether it was a perspective trick on the eye or not I wanted to be sure I looked even. I have been very lucky to have the expander help me through losing a breast. I could not imagine how I would be handling this emotionally and psychologically, if I didn’t have a make-shift boob to remind me I could be physically balanced again.

Dr. B wanted me to reiterate my no radiation decision before discussing any saline injections. Before I had gone to get a second opinion, Dr. B seemed just as disappointed as I did when I told him how the radiation oncologist was definite I would need radiation. And now he was excited when I told him the odds of the what the second opinion gave me, “5%?? that’s it?!! I’m grappling about a 5% difference reccurrence rate whether to have radiation or not?!!” It was pure relief for both of us. He was always doing everything possible to make me look and feel whole again whether I was ready for it or not and I was finally starting to feel “on board” with everything to do with my breast reconstruction.

It was so, difficult for me to get on board with having an implant or reconstruction, all together. My friends and family were all supportive and happy I could have this opportunity to help me recover through breast cancer. I knew I was lucky to be in a day and age where breast reconstruction is possible but a part of me was still sad – is still sad. Seriously, my friend, Felicia once asked me, if I had to change any part of my body, what would I change.  I told her didn’t want anything changed, but she pressed on, and I finally came up with, “I’d want my feet to be smaller because, whenever there are great shoe sales, the most stylish shoes left are always in smaller sizes than mine and I am forever paying full retail for style with my size 9 feet.”

Of all the doctors, I’ve had this past year, Dr. B hands down, had to deal with the brunt of my resentment for losing a breast. I admit, I felt a little sorry for him having to deal with a dubious patient like me. It seems a far cry from the day I told him I would be keeping my own breasts because I didn’t like any of the implant options he was offering me. I have also wondered if anyone else ever broke down while Dr. B drew surgical lines, on their chest, before their mastectomy. He wasn’t even the one removing my breast! When he was exuberant with the look and outcome of my expander in my chest post mastectomy, I wouldn’t touch or even look at the success of his work. By my third expansion, I think he even got his nurses to tell me to massage lotion on my lump, so I would get used to touching my new breast. I remember giving Nurse Helen a, for-real-who-are-you-trying-to-kid, look, when she suggested it. And I could tell Dr. B had enough of my apathetic attitude when he realized I wasn’t wearing a bra since the operation (this had more to do with the extremely hot summer we had in 2011, than the fact I wouldn’t go near touching the lump of my new boob, actually).  I couldn’t fully get on his side, no matter how hard he was trying to show me how wonderful this lump would turn out to be. With every returning visit he would present his affable self, again and again, in hopes I would have come around to liking the idea of a new breast.

Not until I realized radiation would damage my chance at a normal looking breast, did I realize I needed to change my outlook on this breast reconstruction matter. When I decided radiation was not for me that was when I fully got on my boob team! Dr. B was happy to hear from me we would not have to rush switching the expander to the implant or having radiation altogether. The new breast would not be ruined by radiation.

With that we began discussing my slope-y dilemma. He thought the right volume was in my expander and it just needed to be positioned lower than where it was. All this would be corrected when Dr. B would do the exchange with the implant. He began describing the implant shape he would use and telling me about some new high-tech camera he had, in his Bay St. office, he wanted to use on me. The camera could give him a 3 dimensional computer image where he could use to pinpoint exact measurements and determine exact implant volume he would use on me. As fascinated as I was, with this camera of his, (and I really was, seeing as I like all cameras) I needed to bring up another issue which was gnawing at me for the last couple of months.

A couple of acquaintances had mentioned I should inquire about having my other breast lifted. They made valid points about one breast being permanently perky while the other one would eventually sag over time. I told Dr. B, I wanted to make sure the other boob matched the new one. He explained he had already thought about which shaped implant to use and how it would match perfectly with my breast shape. I stopped him and told him perhaps he could just lift or tuck the boob I still had to match the other one. He stared blankly at me saying,

“But you have a full breast. There’s nothing wrong with this breast.”

I reminded him, “Yes, but it will sag over time.”

“So, you’ll DEAL with it then!” he said shaking his head.

“Why can’t we just lift it now and do everything all at once?” I reasoned.

“THAT’S NOT HOW IT’S DONE!” he just rolled his eyes at me. “There’s nothing to lift! YOU HAVE A FULL BREAST HERE!”

I was beginning to realize the breast plan, I grappled with for months in my head, was proving to be too incredulous for Dr. B, “If we did the pencil test now, you’d fail! It would fall to the floor!”

“What pencil test?!! What’s that?” I asked.

Exasperated, he explained the pencil test was when you stick a pencil on the underside crease of your breast and if the pencil holds in place, this is the amount of sag some women may want to have lifted.

Okay, am I the only one who has not heard of this test?!! Because I have since learned, my friend Isa can hold 5 pencils under her boob but, my friend, Helen proudly admits she’s able to hold the Oxford English Dictionary under one of her boobs. I have not seen physical proof of this from either women but will take their word for it. For now. I am curious to see this test work, though…

Dr. B pinched the side of my boob to show me where the lift would usually be done thus showing me how it would ruin the look of my normal breast. All right, so when would my breast actually start sagging, I asked him, and when I would eventually have to have the lift done.

“You’d be surprised at how many perky 50 and 60-year-old breasts I’ve seen! I’m shocked sometimes!!” Dr. B said, “You never know. Maybe you’ll be one of those lucky ones!”


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Déjà vu

Last Spring 2011, I had a second surprise biopsy after the doctors reviewed my MRI. Even though I brought a friend with me, they wouldn’t let me have anyone in the examination room while I had the procedure done. The doctor offered for me to hold Landau’s hand while she collected another sample from the second tumour on my breast. Poor Landau. She had seen my name on the chart that day and because she remembered me from a couple of weeks before she specifically took me on again. At the second biopsy, I wasn’t as accommodating as my first. I tried to convince the Radiology doctor the second lump was not cancer and only a lumpy breast. She kept on telling me there were many spots other than the two lumps she could not tell from the MRI alone and needed to make sure by testing the second lump.

To convince me, we needed another biopsy, she showed me my MRI on another computer screen. By moving her mouse I saw a white outline, section by section, of my head to my chest, as how my body moved through the MRI. The doctor slowed the mouse down as the visual came towards my breast mounds. It felt like riding a roller coaster as we watched moving through the white outline my neck and pausing at the base of my chest where my breasts began to slope up. We approached uphill slowly, slowly, saw a small white mass on the black screen, on the side of the breast near my arm… That’s okay, it’s still small enough to be a lumpectomy I remember thinking to myself. I just need to convince Dr. C to do two lumpectomies even though Dr. C was adamant this would not be the case if this biopsy came back as malignant. The ride moved up to my nipples, and just like any thrilling roller coaster ride this one did not fail to scare at the denouement. My jaw dropped as I rode past the nipples and down the mound of my breast into a constellation of white sparks which covered the bottom half of my cancer filled breast. A larger white mass, the lump I found, sat on the other side of my breast. The radiology doctor made me notice how “quiet” my other breast was, it was black as night, not one spark. This was what she was trying to figure out. Why so many sparks on one breast and not the other? Were all the sparks cancer? Were they just calcifications? She had so many questions to answer. She told me her job to me was to prove it was not cancer. I knew then, from what I saw, no matter how much I fought the doctors, there was no way they would let me keep my breast.

So, there I was squirming, holding Landau’s hand, gripping it, as I would while hanging on for dear life riding down the steepest wooden rollercoaster, as I let the Radiologist pierce through my breast a second time…

Poor Landau.


“Oh, hey there! Is Landau working today? I’d like to have Landau as my radiology tech today if it’s at all possible!” I said to the Medical Imaging receptionist.

At the beginning of a fresh 2012, I had my second mammogram ever and my first ultrasound for my remaining breast. Already the receptionist was taken aback at my requesting a specific radiology tech. She said Landau was upstairs and I should get there by following the yellow line from the elevator to the Breast Imaging waiting room. In the elevator, I texted Natalie on the specifics of where I would be. She would meet me at the end of both appointments and at the end of any surprise biopsy, should they spring one on me.

Natalie wasn’t aware of my lump either. I chose not to say anything about it to everyone because I didn’t want to think about what it would mean, especially over the holidays. I had just finished chemo and there was no way I could anticipate going back for more treatments, if it came to that. Let alone the implications to do radiation should this lump require a lumpectomy or another mastectomy. This was not even factoring in breast reconstruction logistics. It was a huge headache, all over again. I was scared, I was pissed, I was really disappointed.  It would have broken me to have to tell everyone there was a possibility I would have to do this, all over again. Yep, the best thing was not to talk about it, no matter how much this was killing me.

Landau smiled when she came into the waiting room to call on me. I was happy to see her as I followed her into the Mammogram room feeling a little bit nervous. She asked me to point out where the lump was on my breast. I felt around the crease underneath my boob and had a bit of a hard time finding the lump but eventually settled on a bump. Landau placed a sticker on the site and began to position me in front of the machine and squeezed my breast between two plates. I held still while she ran over to the computer to record the image. She repositioned me a couple of more times and asked me to go back to the waiting area while she found a radiologist to look at the images.

In the waiting area, I started texting to Natalie to get here sooner than later as I was starting to panic. Everything was familiar again which was not settling well with me. Landau came by a few minutes later, as I was furiously texting, and maybe she sensed I was nervous because she told me she was still waiting to see the radiologist. She explained it was just their protocol, the radiologist has to see all the mammograms before proceeding onto the ultrasound. Upon hearing this I was able to breathe a little more normally and eased up on the texting.

We got the okay to move along to the Ultrasound room. I laid down on the examination table beside the computer. Landau placed a bed sheet over me to keep me warm and then excused herself to get more blankets. I looked around the room. It was just the way I remembered it. A little disheveled, reminiscent of somewhere between the likes a storage room and a broom closet with expensive ultrasound equipment. A mish-mash kind of hospital room where my two biopsies took place. Landau returned carrying a stack of blankets and towels which she placed under a shelf by the far wall. My eyes zeroed in on the towels! Why do we need towels in here for?!! My heart raced a little faster but I remained calm, if not a little high-pitched in my voice, when I asked Landau straight up, “Are we doing a biopsy today?!!” She looked up and said no, there would be no biopsy for me. She clued in and smiled, informing me the mammogram looked great, actually.

Relieved with this news we began the ultrasound. I asked her if it was common for women to have a malignant lump so soon after chemo. She said no, the only times she would see it was when they were older women in their 70’s or 80’s. She assured me it was probably a cyst, as they did not see anything alarming in the mammogram. When I asked her if she saw a lot of women with reconstructed breasts, Landau became animated. She told me a lot of the times she could not tell which breasts were real or not. Filling out the info form before each visit, sometimes is her only guide for her to differentiate around the real and reconstructed breasts. Unsolicited from me, and based on what she saw with my skin and my mound, Landau gave me a thumbs up on the start of my reconstruction. I appreciated her approval knowing she saw an assortment of breasts, breast reconstructions done by plenty surgeons, everyday and was probably the best candidate to give me an honest answer about my breast reconstruction progress.

I reached over at the spot where the sticker was to show her exactly where the lump was again. However, while lying down I realized the lump wasn’t in the place where I had put the sticker. I showed Landau, I made a mistake during the mammogram, where the lump was. She glided the wand over to the new position. We looked at the screen and both of us became silent.

I gulped. With my quiet voice, I asked, “With this black hole we’re looking at, do we need to disregard everything you just told me about how great my mammogram was?” Landau said, “No.” How could she tell? I asked. She explained, the hole was black, indicating it was filled with water, which essentially made what we were looking at, a cyst.

It was good.

Landau gave me the low-down but I was still to wait to talk to Dr. C to give me the official word. I got the official word today. It was a cyst!

Everything is still good.

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This was how 2011 started off…

I was sitting crouched on my sofa, with my chin on my knee and my chest leaning into to my leg, while working on my resume when I felt a piece of extra padding in my bra. I reached in to try to remove the obstruction and realized it was under the skin of my boob. It was bigger than the standard pea- size the self-breast examinations always asks you to look out for. I read up, on many websites, how to tell a cancerous lump from a benign one, always comforting myself with the fact that breast cancer doesn’t run in my family. I would wait a little bit to see if the lump would change after my period or until the new year to have it checked out.

My own GP could not work it in her schedule to see me when I needed her to check my breasts. I waited two months, in hope, the lump would go away only to find out my own doctor could not see me nor could her office suggest where I should go in her absence. I took matters into my own hands and asked my friend, Liz, a social worker, to recommend a doctor or clinic to go to, to have my lump checked. That’s how I ended up going to the Urgency Care Clinic at Women’s College Hospital. The triage nurse looked like she was giving me an “are you serious?” look when I told her why I was there. I gave her a look of desperation and told her I didn’t know where else to go because my doctor didn’t have time to see me and now was the best time of the month to check my breast. She admitted me after taking all my info and vitals.

After waiting a couple of hours, a young female resident came to examine me before calling in the doctor on the floor. She gave me a thorough breast exam and finally said, given my circumstances, she too would have come into the hospital if she found this lump. She got the doctor to come in and he too examined my breasts. He noted the another lump on the other side of my breast which I brushed off as, “my breasts are always lumpy.” He scheduled me to have an ultrasound and mammogram and explained a biopsy would be arranged a week or two later if it was needed. The doctor also told me to check in with triage nurse before I went for my ultrasound, so I could wait for the results afterwards.

A few weeks later, I took the afternoon off from my new job, as an art department coordinator, on another shitty tv show, to go to my ultrasound and first ever mammogram appointment. I went alone because I didn’t know any better and it would be the last appointment I would ever go alone to until after I started chemo. Landau, was my radiology tech who started me with a mammogram. My very first mammogram was painless enough with all the squeezing and compressing of my breasts in every which way to get a proper shot. Landau looked at the images and focused in on a couple of shots. Then finally on the lump I had indicated on my file. Because I could not decipher the hazy black and white image she was looking at, I asked her what she saw. “You seem to have a lot of cysts but I’m not sure,” and then she excused herself to see if she could find the radiologist to help her confirm her findings. As I got dressed, I remember feeling it was still okay, she just wanted to confirm the images were cysts not cancer. In the recesses of my mind, I calmed the notion that, it was always a bad sign if the tech left the room abruptly.

She returned a few minutes later explaining the radiology doctor might want to speak to me after for further tests. We proceeded to the ultrasound room I laid down on a gurney for Landau to begin recording more images. Again, I couldn’t make anything out from what I was seeing. It was all a blur of black, white, and grey but Landau made red pointers with her mouse over certain parts of the screen and on several different images as she moved her wand up and down my breast. When she was done she excused herself again to find the radiologist.

Both of them returned and the radiology doctor explained how she wanted to perform a biopsy on me right away, as she had time on her schedule that day, instead of waiting to do it in a week or two to do the same procedure. The doctor was so nonchalant telling me they needed a couple of samples to send their lab to verify exactly what my lump was made up of, along with placing a clip on my lump to facilitate locating it when further testing with an MRI, which they would also need. I agreed, but part of me wasn’t convinced about any of this coming to any delightful ending. I asked the radiologist, “How would you remove the clip if the lump turns out to be benign?” The radiologist and Landau turned to look at one another and paused for a nano second but she came back quickly enough assuring me tons of people are able to live with the clip inside them as it was so minute. And again, I hushed my subconscious. Hoping. Praying. This would not end badly.

I laid down on the gurney beside the ultrasound monitor once more. Landau swabbed my chest with a local anesthestic while the radiology doctor organized her four or five 18 inch long needles. As she inserted the first needle into my breast my eyes were wide-eyed glaring at the monitor. With every needle, every clipping, every snapping sound made with retrieving a sample, my eyes grew wider, my upper lip inched further down toward my chin, my heart beat faster, louder, as I watched the silently mortified, in fascination. The doctor, looking over at me, thought she was hurting me. I was quiet, when I shook my head, indicating I didn’t feel any physical pain. She promised it would only be a couple of more needles and we would be done as I felt the sharp point moving inside my breast “HURRY!” I screamed in my head while holding my breath.

Landau cleaned my chest, placed two small surgical bandages, where the needles were inserted, on my boob. She helped me sit up and gave me another hospital gown to replace the one stained with my blood before walking me out to some chairs outside of the waiting room. We needed to go back and take two extra mammogram images and someone wanted to speak to me about a research trial for a contrast dye used for MRIs. Landau went to check on the mammogram room when a young blonde woman, who was full of cheerful pep, was introduced to me and asked if I would be interested in participating in their research, how the study would not affect my receiving a MRI appointment in a timely matter, all they needed was my consent, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. For the most part, I held it together while listening to her, but I told her, “This is a little too much for me to take in right now. Could we discuss this at another time?” and tears started to roll down my cheeks. Swooping in, Landau came back just in time to drag me back to the Mammogram room where she gave me brown paper towel to wipe my tears. Though Landau insisted I wait to discuss my results with my GP, I told her I preferred to go downstairs to the Urgency Care Clinic to wait for my results. Just as the the doctor-on-call had instructed me a few weeks back.

I went through the triage nurse again who happened to be the same nurse as I had the first time I had come in. Just like the first time, she asked me why I was there. I told her I just came from having an ultrasound, mammogram and a biopsy and how I was there a few weeks ago, for a lump on my chest, and how the doctor-on-call had told me to come back for my test results after my appointment upstairs. She wanted to know which exam I had first. “Ultrasound. No mammogram… I had a mammogram, then an ultrasound, then we had another mammogram after having a biopsy.” The nurse asked where the lump was and I broke down sobbing telling her they “clipped” me in the biopsy and I wasn’t really sure what the clipping meant… The nurse looked up at me from the chart she was filling out and her no-nonsense demeanor changed. “I remember you,” she said “you came in about 3 weeks ago, about the lump on your breast, right?” I nodded between sobs. The nurse tried to reassure me breast cancer had come a long way especially with reconstruction and all, but I didn’t want any consoling. I wanted my test results. She took out her blood pressure gauge wrapped my left arm in the band and clipped a peg on my right index finger. The machine beeped rapidly almost instantly! Nurse took the peg off my finger asked me to take a couple of breaths to calm down. She placed the peg back on my finger. Again, BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP!!!!! We tried again but I wasn’t calming down any faster. The nurse threw up her arms, it was useless to get a proper vital readings from me at this point.

She let me into the emergency room anyhow and into a quiet room all to myself, where I cried my eyes out, with a small box of what I have come to label as “sandpaper”which I have realized, all hospitals like to call “facial tissues.” I’m not kidding even a little bit on this. My eyes were raw from wiping with their “tissues.” Before work, the next morning, I had to conceal the purple around my eyes with a good layer of base foundation and powder. If there was any lesson I took away, from that day alone, it was definitely to bring my own facial tissue supply for all future medical appointments!

I waited and sobbed for over two and a half hours before I saw the doctor on duty. He told me the results would not be ready for a couple of days and would be sent to my GP but he would have someone from the Breast Centre contact me when results were in.

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Good riddance

(Happy 2012! I know it has been awhile since I’ve written. Sorry, I needed some time, some fun, some relaxation and now I’m back. I know some of you have been waiting and I’m often surprised of who is reading this blog and I’m pleased you feel comfortable enough to tell me to hurry up and write some more.)

I finished chemotherapy.

Those three words deserve to be a paragraph on their own based on the weight they carry for completing the task at hand. I rang the bell as promised to me by all the nurses who I came across, the couple of days leading up to my last session. As I sit here in the local Starbucks of my hometown, away from home, I’m trying desperately to hold back the tears as I had when I rang that fire bell. A huge chapter is behind me and I try everyday to not reflect back to the painful sections but to focus on the good things which came out of this year. But it’s difficult when huge chunks of crap surrounds it.

My mom and Maggie were with me at the end of my last chemo. I was a little drowsy on Benadryl again to keep away the reaction I was having with the steroids and to prevent other allergic symptoms I was having from the chemo. My fingers were still tingley from the last two Taxotere chemo treatments but some of my fingernails had started turning greyish from my second or third treatments of FEC chemo. Mag and Mom came to my chemo chair where they saw me laying down with my fingertips and toes immersed in packs of ice. Mom asked what they were for, I told her it was to prevent my fingernails from falling off. However, from close inspection it seems like my thumbnails will eventually come off if I’m not careful.

My last chemo session I heard another patient ring the bell. The sound was shy, almost embarrassed, but all of us chemo patients applauded them even though we couldn’t see them from through the partitions. I couldn’t understand such a lack-luster ring. At least, it was better than the first ring I had ever heard during my third treatment. I was in the loo and I thought I had heard a “ding” and then some applause. I came out to see where the “ding” was coming from but everything ceased making me unsure if anything rang at all. One lousy “ding” after chemotherapy. Boy, it pissed me off and made me sad a little bit. I had no business judging that chemo patient’s “ding”. But, FUCK! It was as if the one “ding” was a denial that chemo ever happened, that all of it didn’t matter, the chemo was trivial and no big deal. I could not understand such a modest ring.

When I finished my chemo I could not wait to get to the bell. The nurse (whose name I can’t remember because it was not a common name) had to ask me to hold on, a couple of times, before she could bring me over to the ringing station. Maggie and I fiddled with my camera to make sure it was working properly. I readied my stance, grabbed the rope attached to the bell and rang that sucker like the place was on fire! I choked up a bit but I held my tears back even though no other patients could see me from behind the walls. I heard the applause, the same applause I gave while being pumped with chemo. I got all giggly with happiness. Yeah! That’s how you ring the chemo bell! Ring it like it’s done! Like there’s a light at the end of the effing tunnel! Good riddance! FUCK CANCER!!

Mom stayed an extra few days with me because I thought I would still be taking the Neupogen which coupled with my chemo was creating the excruciating bone pain. However, my prescription ran out on the Neupogen and Dr. Amir decided since I wouldn’t be coming back to another chemo session my white blood cells could take their time to rejuvenate. I would still get a little tired feeling a little creaky but nowhere near the intense pain I had experienced from the last two sessions. It was a relief not to have to feel the war coursing through my bone marrow. As the chemo was killing all the good cells and bad dividing cells, the Neupogen was desperately creating more cells to keep all hell from breaking loose. This last chemo session was really the last I could take. I had, had enough of all the painkillers, the fuzzy brain, the yeast infections, the weight gain, the “roid rage,” all of it. Chemotherapy could be a downer.

After my mother left I slowly started looking forward to spending time with old friends to celebrate this milestone. I was even looking forward to spending Christmas in Montreal with my family, as it might be the first Christmas I wouldn’t feel tense in the company of my parents. Shirley, my brother’s mother-in-law, called to ask when I would be available for a celebratory lunch to commemorate finishing chemo. All I needed to do before leaving for Montreal was to have a follow-up visit with Dr. C, my breast surgeon, before I could go home for Christmas.

Two weeks before Christmas I went back to Women’s College Hospital where everything began. I got a warm reception from the staff and was led to an examination room where, as usual, I changed into a hospital gown. A new intern entered the room, the same room Dawn and I waited for over an hour while Dr. C and Dr. B discussed behind closed doors what to do with my reluctance at having a mastectomy and plastic surgery. It was all so nostalgic being in that exam room, I smiled to myself, thinking about how far I had come since last Spring when I had doubts I would be content with any of the decisions I had to make to get through cancer. The intern asked where I was with chemo? Finished on December 1st, I told her. What was next on the reconstruction agenda?  Seeing Dr. B, in January, to discuss the exchange of my expander to implant, I told her. Who was my oncologist? Dr. A, I told her. At the end of the preliminary questions she asked me to lie down and gave me a breast exam. She pressed and prodded every inch of my breasts. Her hands kneaded my good breast a little longer at its 5 o’clock position. Her fingers pinched the area a little and then she was done. She said I could sit up and would go to get Dr. C to come see me.

Dr. C came into the room smiling and congratulated me on finishing chemo. We went over responses to the questions the intern had asked me before she did her own examination of my boobs. Again she went to the 5 o’clock position of my remaining breast and my heart sank.

“It’s another lump,” Dr. C said “but I’m sure it’s benign after all the chemo you have just had. If anything, it’s a cyst. What does it say on her chart about her other breast from her last mammogram?” she asked her intern. I piped up and said the mammogram said nothing about my other breast. The MRI was clear from what I remember seeing, I reminded Dr. C. They checked my chart and sure enough the remaining breast was unremarkable according to the notes. Dr. C requested an urgent mammogram and ultrasound to be done immediately for me. I was only able to get an appointment after the New Year. Two and a half weeks, I would have to wait to find out if I still had cancer.

I decided not to tell my friends and family about the new lump. As they are reading this they will probably be upset or want to wring my neck for not opening up to them. Know that whatever you are feeling, I felt ten-fold, over the holidays, but I really did not want you to worry until I had hard evidence the cancer came back. I still needed to go through this, the way I need to.

It only occurred to me, while in the middle of this blog entry, going over the irresolute feelings I had over the holidays, why the end of chemo ring, for some, would be so understated. For some the end of chemotherapy does not mean the end of cancer.

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I know I am behind in keeping you all up to date but I needed a few days to distance myself from the last chemo session – my fourth. Today I feel like I am actually forgetting about the bone pain. In so many ways, the bones achiness is indescribable. You can’t imagine the amount of times I fantasized about someone wrapping me tightly in blankets, squeezing out the sense of collapse in my bones, and then tossing my wrapped body in front of a speeding truck. Crushing my bones would settle any bone pain helping me to breathe calmly again. Warped, I know, but that’s the beauty of Percocets!

There is so much to catch up on. I am relishing the few days in between chemo sessions where my head is actually clear and I feel physically able to take in a day free of frequent naps. A lot has happened since I last wrote. My Dad accompanied my Mom to Toronto for my third session, which was the last session before they changed the chemo cocktail. And this all happened before my cousins, Susan and Daisy came down to look after me for my fourth round of chemo. Maybe I can get it all into this posting, I will try to remember all the good bits best that I can.

Winslow came with me to pick up my Mom and Dad at Union Station. It’s a nightmare picking anyone up at the train station because you have a block of taxis lined up on Front St. waiting for fares. I greeted my parents and walked them a block or two past the station where Winslow parked, but not until after they stopped for some “street meat” to bring home to eat. Funny, I don’t think my parents has ever been to La Belle Province or The Montreal Pool Room for “steamies” but they were all excited about the “street meat” in Toronto.

I have never spent so much time alone with both my parents. It was a weird feeling having them both in my space. My father, for one, I began to realize, is not an easy person to live with. I remembered in the beginning of all this how I wasn’t sure if I wanted my mother around after I had surgery. My Uncle Tom recounted to me a telephone conversation he had with Cory, my brother, before my mastectomy. Tom had asked Cory if my Dad was coming to Toronto, Cory told him our Dad would not be coming. When Tom asked why, Cory said “Because my Dad annoys my Mom when he’s around her.” Tom thought to himself and then replied back, “Gee, that’s funny, because when I talked to Norine she said your Mom annoys her when she was around!” For the most part, my Mother and I got into a groove over being together during my chemo sessions, I think she was coached to keep an open mind and not to stress me out more. All of which I appreciate more than I could have imagined. We would shop together, walk around together, enjoy the company of my friends together. It was – IS more than I could have hoped at mending my relationship with my mother.

My father, I could tell was not coached by family or friends. At all. Therefore, I saw the annoyances, which grate on my mother, more than I cared to. Growing up my parents were barely ever home while they worked anywhere between 12-16 hours a day at the restaurant. We would see them maybe a day and a half each week growing up. Which was probably why I was caught off guard with my apartment toilet seat being up each time I had to use the bathroom! I hear of this occasionally from girlfriends who have live-in boyfriends or husbands but it can’t be this serious of a problem. Can it? This was MY apartment and HE was still my guest! When visiting the household of a lady, TOILET SEAT DOWN. Always! He followed this up by throwing compost in my paper recycling because he didn’t look under the kitchen sink to find the proper garbage receptacle. I ended up cleaning everything after a day spent at chemo. A couple of days later he fell on his face while walking along the street. He stepped aside for some kids to get by and somehow tripped on the sidewalk. He came back into my apartment from his 10 minute walk with a bruise on his cheek and proceeded to show me the cuts and scrapes on his elbow and knees. It’s not that I didn’t sympathize with him but I was a little exhausted while I was soaking cotton balls with peroxide and cutting band-aids to fit the surface of his cheekbone. I started to think “Who’s suppose to be taking care of who here?!” He was suppose to be here to help make my life a little be easier while I napped away the effects of chemo. I did wake up once after an afternoon nap to a clanging noise and furniture being moved around due to Dad cleaning my kitchen. So he kind of made up a bit for being an annoyance.

Around the time they were here I had also been approved by OHIP to receive seven Neupogen injections for seven days after chemo.These shots would help me produce more white blood cells during my chemo treatments. I would need a nurse to administer the shots, even though I could be taught how to inject myself with the Neupogen, I had no interest in handling needles. PMH arranged for a home care nurse to call me. As it turned out, I lived so close to a clinic, where nurses could administer my injections, the coordinator suggested for me to walk there. This was most preferable with most of their patients receiving Neupogen, in my neighbourhood, as it meant not having to wait around for a nurse to come to your door. The coordinator gave me directions to where the clinic was located and it all sounded great until I got off the phone and looked over my notes and started to realize: clinic south of King St.+ in Parkdale + separate far entry = Methadone clinic?!!

“Honey, do you want me to walk with you to the clinic?” my Dad asked. I was almost going to accept but I remembered my suspicions and I quickly told him I would go on my own, taking public transportation if I felt too weak. Instead I brought them to Princess Margaret Hospital, and gave them a tour before I picked up my needles and medication. It was their first time seeing the PMH facilities which has been like a second home to me these last few months. They were impressed with the “newness” of the hospital. It was very different from what my Mother had probably told Dad about Women’s College Hospital (who are in the process of their own facilities renovation). I showed them Chemo Daycare, the Breast Centre, and finally the PMH pharmacy. I think the pharmacy impressed them the most because the great majority of the 20 pharmacists looked like they were of Chinese descent. Everyone receiving medication from the PMH must speak to one of four pharmacists before paying for their drugs, each and every time. I got called up to pharmacist’s window number four and spoke to a young petite Asian woman about when I would be receiving the medication, what the procedure was, and how they would provide a cooler bag for me to travel with the meds to and from the clinic. I also asked about the process of receiving Neupogen. The price of these seven shots cost $1400 of which OHIP does not cover unless you apply for coverage, which I suspect Dr. A had done before my second chemo treatment. Dr. A and I never really discussed the logistics of Neupogen and chemotherapy to any full extent. I am only piecing stuff together, from discussing stories with a couple of other previous breast cancer patients.

Neupogen is usually covered by private health insurance but from what I have heard it is absolutely necessary when going through chemotherapy. White blood cells become eviscerated during chemo. Without Neupogen I ended up at TGH with hardcore antibiotics to fight an infection my immune system could not fight on its own. This is what I do not get. Neupogen is a vital drug needed during chemo to sustain proper blood counts to continue with chemo treatments. If this is the case, why isn’t it covered under OHIP? Or the whole Canadian medicare system, for that matter? Same goes for my three $40 dollar per anti-nausea pills. We know these things work. Why are the pharmaceutical companies charging such high rates? Why aren’t these drugs readily available for all cancer patients? I know, I know, money has to be made by someone, somewhere…

It’s been an eye-opener navigating around Cancer with no private health insurance. Thinking back to this whole process, I realize I am very lucky to have the medical professionals I have had. I’m thankful for my medical team for staying on top of things and knowing how to work a “system” while I try to figure out what my next steps are with Cancer. Steps like whether I need radiation after chemo or not.


Even though I did not discuss it in the last couple of months the thought of having to do radiation weighed heavily on my psyche. The possibility of having to ruin a breast implant I haven’t received yet let alone the mad scheduling to switch the expander to implant before radiation would make me cry at night. In the weeks of waiting for Dr. L to come back to tell me what he had discussed with the pathologist I vowed to be defiant and to question every detail if he came back with another verdict to radiate my breast. I admit, I trusted Dr. L’s diagnosis less than any of the doctors I have had at this point. Every Cancer doctor, so far, has needed me to make quick decisions on monumental events which has broken me mentally, emotionally and physically. I had always trusted every doctor’s diagnosis even Dr. C’s (I only asked for a second opinion in the hopes of buying me a little time from having to deal with getting rid of one of my breasts). I defied Dr. L because I needed him to give me definite reasons to radiate. I was told by a social worker it was more than in my right to question, question, and question until I was sure about everything. I could tell Dr. L was uncomfortable with my defiant behaviour but I didn’t care. If I have to make quick decisions which break me, every doctor I see had better be ready to give me their best solid rock of an answer about why they think I should be put through more trauma.

We met up again a couple of weeks ago, Dr. L’s decision was a little more thought out this time around. He started by telling me I did not have a full mastectomy, if I did the scar would have stretched from my breast to my armpit. Rationalizing to myself later, I would have said to him, my surgeons decided to implement a tissue expander for me, because my Sentinel Lymph Node dissection was negative. There was no way a tissue expander would have gone in had it been a different outcome. I think, I hope I would have been okay with that. Even if I wasn’t okay with it, I’m sure I would have understood why. If any of my lymph nodes showed positive for carcinoma there would have been any discussions about expanders, implants or reconstruction at the time of my mastectomy. Period.

Dr. L still seemed pro radiation even though he came to the conclusion it would ultimately be up to me to decide. He pointed out I fell into a median where two opposing views were just as valid as the other. He concluded if the cosmetic outcome of my breast implant was important to me they would monitor my progress closely for the next 5 years (as they will be doing anyhow) or if I told him I wanted a higher chance of no recurrence, I should go with radiation. I WANT BOTH. Wouldn’t anyone? He couldn’t give me numbers or percentages the way Dr. A could convince me before I placed my bets on which chemo to use.

I asked if I could have a second opinion. He said, “Of course.”


I met with Dr. Catton within a couple of weeks to discuss her opinion whether I needed Radiation Therapy or not. She gave me the pros and cons of my individual case. The cons being my age, size of tumour, and the grade of the tumour. The pros were I was doing chemo, I will go on hormone therapy, and my lymph nodes were clear. Ultimately, she sided with radiation not being a necessity in my case. I asked her what was the average of not doing radiation, in my case, as opposed to doing it. She said the percentage of a non-recurrence with radiation was 90% if I did it. Without it factoring in what I was doing and my case she concluded I had an 85% chance of non-recurrence. Could I live with a 15% chance of getting another cancer as opposed to a 10% chance? I was so overwhelmed and happy with her prognosis, tears started streaming down my eyes. She reminded me these were just averages. There was a chance I would never get a recurrence without all this adjuvant therapy, as I feel has been the case all along. It’s all a gamble and no matter how much I do to try to prevent a recurrence there are never guarantees. At some point I have to look at my quality of life. Sure, I could get in an extra 5% in, but it would need radiation and then more extensive surgery which requires skin from my back to replace damaged skin on my radiated breast and a cosmetic result which would let me down mentally. I will take my chances at a 15% risk of a recurrence.

It felt like a huge weight had been lifted after several weeks of anticipating the worse case scenario. I wasn’t going to lose another breast and my reconstruction will move forward and I could put this crap behind me.


Susan and Daisy, my cousins, came around for round four of chemo. My Mom needed a little break coming to Toronto every 3 weeks, so their visit was a welcome. Susan stayed with me in my apartment while Daisy stayed with her sister Eva. It was great having them around as we really haven’t hung out with just the three of us, probably since I moved out of The Plateau in Montreal. They lived in an apartment a couple of blocks from me, way back when I was in the last year of university, and I would drop in to their place whenever. In fact, I remember one time I was on the 80 Av. du Parc  bus, coming back from class, as we approached my bus stop I and the whole bus heard gunshots! The whole bus swayed as we looked out the window to see some guy running along the street being chased by a couple of other dudes and I remember thinking calmly, to myself, “Hmm, maybe get off the next stop and drop by Daisy and Susan’s place. Maybe stay for dinner and then go back home. Coast will be clear by then.” It was convenient having my cousins close by, in all sorts of occasions.

Round 4 of chemo seemed a breeze at first. I was told there would be no nausea this time around so there was no need to prescribe the anti-nausea pills but I was warned about bone pain. Percocets were prescribed to me to use at the onset of any bone pain which I was suppose to expect after getting my Neupogen shots. I had three days of bliss shopping, eating, and chatting with my cousins before the achiness started. We were at IKEA looking for a shelving unit for Eva’s place when my hips started to feel heavy. Susan told me to go sit down somewhere while she and Eva figured out the shelving. I sat in the kitchen table display section the whole time and I gotta say everyone looks at the cheapest unstained pine table, Ingo, which I, myself own. Thirty minutes passed and I went to check if a shelving unit was chosen. It wasn’t so I asked for the keys to go take a nap in the car. The bone pain was starting to creep into my legs.

Sunday morning Susan started packing for her drive back to her hubby and kids in Montreal and I woke up to a massive sore throat (which I’ve recently discovered was a symptom of having Thrush). She had wanted to stay to bring me to my Neupogen appointment but she had thrown out her back while we were loading the shelving into her car the night before. I insisted I would be all right and it felt weird both of us having geriatric aches at the same time, but before “our time”! Anyhow, after Susan left I decided to take a Percocet to see how they would work on the pain. I was high as a kite at 10:00am.

The pain in my throat had subsided much but I called Darrin for assistance to get me to the meth clinic. In the end, he messed up the time and I ended up taking the bus and walking to the clinic after arranging for him to pick me up afterwards. Walking to the bus stop I knew it wasn’t such a great idea to be on Percocets and have bone pain on my own. My legs felt wobbly and my head was flying. I made it to my appointment and discussed with the nurse how I did not think it was possible for me to walk myself to the clinic anymore with this bone pain. They would have to provide me with a home care nurse to come to my apartment for any future Neupogen shots. With this arranged I went outside to wait for Darrin. I sat on a park bench zoned out hoping none of the recovering addicts would ask to sit beside me.

Even though the pill bottle stated to “take the pills every 4 hours or when needed” I believed the emphasis was on the “when needed”. I took the pills every 4 hours the first day and felt somewhat numb the next day. Falsely believing the pain was subsiding I decided to take a pill every 6 hours instead and almost bypassed taking the pill in the middle of the night. Not waking myself to take a Percocet on time, as the night before, was the biggest mistake I could make through this chemo experience.

I woke up at 4am groaning in pain. Tired and sobbing I had to mentally convince myself I was able to walk, the short distance from my bedroom into my kitchen, without my bones falling off my body. I felt the heaviness of my skull on my neck crushing into the base of my spine. My hips felt like they were creaking as I lifted each leg in front of me. It felt like all the small bones in my foot would crumble and create a domino effect for my skeleton to collapse. My finger tips, as I reached for my bottle of pills, the same fingers (and toes) we immersed in bags of ice chips during chemo to prevent my nails from falling off after, felt like I had slammed a door on them. My finger tips still feel the residual pain as I’m typing in these words. I swallowed the Percocet and quickly wobbled back to my bedroom. I laid in my bed feeling sorry for myself blubbering and in disbelief wondering why this was all happening to me. I felt eviscerated, I just didn’t want to play this game anymore. No more chemo, no more challenging doctors, no more blood work, no more needles. NO MORE!

Before the tears on my cheeks were dry I bravely twitched my foot. Nothing. I moved my right leg. No more pain. Did I just imagine all that bone pain? Did that really happen? Was I being melodramatic over all this? For Christ sakes, what was all this crying for? Was the writhing in pain really necessary? And that, my friends, is the beauty of how fast Percocets work.

I ♥ Percocets.

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Was she demented or racist? Or is it just a fine line?

I wasn’t expecting to stay overnight at the hospital let alone two nights. All I had was a toothbrush and toothpaste I had asked Felicia to pick up for me while I was in the emergency examination room. At about midnight, I was wheeled up to the 14th floor of Toronto General Hospital and into a room of four. Nurse Susan, a small Philipino woman welcomed me into room 414 with a smile showing me where I would be sleeping.

My roommates were two elderly ladies who kept my night eventful, if not restful. Mrs. Reyes, also a Philipino woman, was waiting for a liver transplant. Nurse Susan was keeping a close eye on her because she kept on trying to pull her IV out. Mrs. Reyes was quiet while doing so because something about her liver disease affected her mind which kept her from speaking, even though they provided her with nurses who spoke her mother tongue,Tagalog. Across from her was Lillian an 82-year old who fell and bumped her head, with a touch of dementia or on some sort of nightly medication which made her racist to all Asians. The fourth bed was empty until the morning. After gently asking Mrs. Reyes to not pull out her IV’s for the seventh time in fifteen minutes, Nurse Susan came back to inform me she needed to swab my armpits and my behind. “MY BEHIND? WHY?” I asked while tightening my butt cheeks. It was procedure they did with all new patients. Susan assured me she swabs everyone who comes in, “You do?!! Wow, lucky you.” As I dropped my drawers, I made a mental note of furiously crossing off “nursing” as any possible career moves I may contemplate of in the near future.

Post swabbing, I quickly got ready for bed. Brushed my teeth and then sat on what looked like an elderly wheelchair thingy with the seat partially cut out for toilet use. It looked like more trouble to remove the chair than to sit on the actual toilet seat, so I just went for it not thinking twice about it. I tucked myself back in bed just in time to hear Lilian yell something about “All you crazy Asians!” at Susan. Susan asked Lilian to get back in her bed but she protested and I heard Susan from behind the curtain next to me speaking to Mrs. Reyes, about her not pulling the IV again. More arguing from Lilian before help came for Susan. An Asian man came to put Lilian back into her bed while Susan came over to take my temperature and administer more anti-biotics into my IV. I asked Susan if she had more blankets because I was feeling chilly again. She brought back two and laid them on me while I laid in fetal position trying to stay warm. All the while I listened to her repeatedly asking Mrs. Reyes not to touch her IV and having to deal with Lilian getting irate at all of us Asians. I counted in my head, me, Nurse Susan, Mrs. Reyes, Asian-hospital-guy-I-can’t-figure-out-if-he’s-a-nurse-doctor-or-orderly, four Asians to one lily-white-haired-old Lilian. Must have really sucked to be Lilian tonight if she hated Asians, so much. I was finally lulled to sleep by Lilian’s screaming that the nurse call button was her game which she paid for years ago and no one was to touch it. Well, she touched it once too much and Asian dude came back to restrain Lilian with straps while Susan had to reattach the IV back into Mrs. Reyes. Susan came back to me when my IV drip was done and asked how I was doing. I told her I was still freezing, maybe more blankets. She thought maybe just a towel on my head to keep the heat in my body and placed one on top of my bald head. She was right!

Nurse Jocette greeted me as I awoke in the morning and asked to check my temperature and to give me another bag of antibiotics. Lillian was still sleeping and Mrs. Reyes gained a caregiver all to herself just to make sure she didn’t rip out her IV. Poor Mrs. Reyes, every time I saw her assisted to the washroom, she seemed like a shell of a person. She did not speak once while I was there but I heard from her caregivers that she smiled once in a while. When Lillian awoke she just glared at me all pissed off. Meh, she probably thought I was one of the full-haired Asians involved with restraining her last night or maybe she had bad vision and couldn’t tell whether I was Asian or not without the trademark black hair we crazy Asians have. Whatever, I really wasn’t interested in what Lilian thought because breakfast arrived!

I had a slew of friends visiting me on Sunday. Dawn, Solange and Zoe came by bearing headgear gifts with a much needed Americano coffee from Ella’s Uncle cafe. Headgear was given to me. I wore my cashmere toque right away and saved my newly made nightcaps for a warmer sleep later on. I cannot express the importance of headgear during chemotherapy. The amount of heat loss without hair is unbearable to me and thank goodness I have friends with good taste to keep my head looking hip!

In between visits, Jocette returned to tell me she needed to inject me with a blood thinner. “WHY?” I asked. She told me it was because the doctor didn’t want me to develop a blood clot from lying about and not moving. “Tell the doctor I’ll walk around! Seriously!! I’ll walk. I don’t need another needle.” Jocette laughed but told me she needed to administer it because it was listed on the chart. Was this as incredulous as I thought? Why wouldn’t my doctor just ask me to walk around if I could?

More friends came to visit me throughout the afternoon and well into the evening. Gillian and Jen entertained me with stories of older executives who don’t realize the difference between Lavalife and LinkedIn when asking colleagues out on a date. Felicia showed up with sandwiches for lunch and stayed with me while we eavesdropped into Lillian’s meeting with social workers to determine whether she suffered from mild dementia. Every question they asked Lillian started to grate on me as it only proved she was sharp as a whip. I texted Felicia across from me, something to the lines of “She’s a racist bitch if she answers all the questions correctly!” Felicia looked up from her iPhone and whispered if Lillian was racist to Black people, pointing to the nurses, who were on duty during the day. I shook my head no and waved my fingers pointing towards her and me frantically, indicating Lillian had it in for only us Asians. Serena finally showed up with a slice of pizza as I was still hungry. The three of us decided to have a stroll to Starbucks on the main floor of the hospital. On our way there, I made sure to find a public bathroom because I really didn’t want to share the same toilet seat that Lillian used in our room anymore. Call me crazy, but if I was Rosa Parks I would have demanded we ride in a separate bus because I would not want to catch any racists cooties from idiots like Lillian.

Darrin came by with dinner, at nightfall- Chinese take-out seafood noodles with “extra crispy noodles”, and by that time, Nurse Susan was back on duty for the night shift. And like clockwork, Lillian was her usual vile self, challenging the hospital staff and being uncooperative, just in time, for Felicia to witness when she came back to the hospital. We heard Lillian screaming how all Asians were crazy again. Felicia quipped back, “Better than being a crazy white woman!” Which Nurse Susan and the Asian-hospital-guy-I-can’t-figure-out-if-he’s-a-nurse-doctor-or-orderly (who had to strap her in again) appreciated. Lillian didn’t like the comment and mocked us laughing. We mocked her back and then I told Felicia we had to stop engaging her.

Within minutes after Felicia left my fever broke. I told Nurse Susan I was really sweaty and hot. My hospital gown was getting soaked and Susan told me to take the overcoat off. Jennifer texted, just at that moment, to let her know if I needed anything. I NEED UNDERWEAR! I texted and she actually accommodated by driving out to Walmart at 10:30 pm grabbed me 5 pairs of fresh new underwear and dropped it off on my hospital bed. I was so thankful to Jen, and all my friends really, at that moment. I thought I could last 48 hours without having to change my underwear but they were soaked in sweat and it wasn’t helping that I was sleeping on a plasticized mattress.


Monday morning I waited patiently until 9am to call up Dr. A’s office. Kathy, his assistant answered.

Kathy: “Oh yes, we received a couple of notes on you from this weekend. We are trying to find you a bed at PMH.

Me (speaking quietly, so no one could hear me but my bed is divided by a curtain, so everyone probably heard me anyhow):”Oh, I don’t think that would be necessary anymore, my fever broke last night. I’m just calling to see if Dr. A. has any pull to bust me outta here?”

Kathy: “Oh, you’ve had enough have you?”

Me: “Oh yes! I am waiting for a catscan to come back at the moment but my headache cleared last night, so I’m pretty sure the scan will come back with nothing. Fever is gone, body temperature is normal this morning. I should go home today, I feel all better.”

Kathy: “Right, okay. So, your message to Dr. A is that you are feeling better.”

Me: “Yeah, no. My exact words to are, ‘he needs to bust me outta here TODAY!'”

Kathy: “Okay, we’ll see what we can do.”


For the life of me, I cannot remember the only Caucasian nurse I had while staying in the hospital. Is that terrible? I really liked her too. It must be chemo affecting my memory. She gave me a two new hospital gowns. Lillian, once again, glared at me in the morning and we had a new patient in the bed across from me. Another elder white lady who would make pleasant eye contact and smiled at me every time I came back into the room from making brief bathroom visits elsewhere on the floor. I suspected she was listening, behind her curtain, to Lillian’s conversations with various social workers and Lillian’s son and daughter-in-law, who came in from somewhere and made no eye contact with me whatsoever. I was trying not to read too much into it but couldn’t help but get a sense that the lady across from me was trying to prove she wasn’t like Lillian at all!

Nickolas who works in the University Health Network came by to visit and we went out to Starbucks once again. While we were having coffee I thought it must be a little crazy for Nickolas who just came back from Greece having to deal with his father’s death to cancer and then coming right back home to visit his friend who was dealing with Breast Cancer and chemo to prevent anymore cancers. I wonder how many other people have these simultaneous connections with cancer as we had. Thinking about it makes me a little loopy sometimes.

I got back to my hospital floor and my nurse was checking the log out sheet at the front desk to see where I went. She saw me coming down the hall and gestured an eye roll to me while shouting out “STARBUCKS?” I let out a laugh and shrugged my shoulders and told her I was waiting for someone to discharge me from the hospital. Dr. A was stepping off the elevator as I returned to my room.

Dr. A came around my room 30 minutes after sighting him in the hallway. He summarized my blood tests showed my neutrophil count was still low but was climbing and they suspected I would be fine by the next morning. He also alerted me I was approved to receive Neuprogen shots to help my body produce more white blood cells while I am doing chemotherapy. I reminded him I had an appointment with him in the morning to check my blood count before my chemo session. He told me he postponed my chemo treatment for the following week to let my body recover a bit. They were trying to decide whether to keep me another night. I whispered loudly to Dr. A I didn’t want to stay another night. He seemed hesitant but went to speak with the doctor in charge again.

It took another 4 hours for paperwork and a prescription for two types of anti-biotics before they released me at 5pm from TGH.

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Making do with less and less

Everything has been waning these last few weeks after my second chemo treatment. It was a bit touch-and-go before the second treatment as my blood count was lower compared to my original blood sample from before my first round of chemo. Dr. A had me draw blood three times in 48 hours just to see the blood count inch back up. The veins in my left arm were all bruised up which did not make Nurse Shanelle (her name might have been ‘Chanel’ but for some reason I saw it as ‘Shanelle’- will verify next time I see her) happy when I was finally approved to go forth at Chemo Daycare. I admitted to Shanelle that I remembered nurse Evelyn mentioning something important about using one arm for blood work and the other for chemo but I wasn’t really paying attention at the time as everything was all new. She reviewed with me that I am to only use my left arm for chemo, to preserve as many good veins as possible. My right arm, even with a couple of lymph nodes removed, is able to withdraw blood but never to be used for infusion. Got it!  She spent a while heating up my left arm and looking for an available straight vein as she noticed I only seemed to have three straight ones whereas the rest of them were too tiny or too deep to get to. Half way into my treatment she gasped at my bare legs sitting cross legged in the chemo chair, “LOOK AT ALL THOSE VEINS!” I looked down at several blue lines encircling my calves and told Shanelle if she coveted my leg veins she was more than welcomed to use them if it made both our lives easier with this whole needling process. She would only be allowed to use my leg veins if she had a doctor’s note. I told her I would speak to Dr. A at my next appointment.

For the second round of chemo Helen had driven my mother to Toronto from Montreal. My mother had never met Helen before, so before their road trip, I questioned Helen on what she was going to tell my Mom about how we knew each other.  I reviewed my memory banks back to my university days to try and remember if I had any glaring shameful moments I needed to remind Helen not to bring up during their car conversations. But realizing my not-so-proud-moments in the past would really pale in comparison to Helen’s not-so-proud-moments in her past I resolved I had nothing to worry about. It was good having Helen around during the second round, for one we had a fourth player for mahjong and with Helen we were able to get Mom, who hates the smell of cheese, to step into The Cheese Boutique with us as she probably wouldn’t have if Helen wasn’t driving us to T’n’T Supermarket afterwards. Mom promptly refused to walk into the “cheese fridge” with us at after catching wind of cheese mould stink wafting out. With chemo a lot of my taste and sense of smell is off but not for pungent cheese! We stood in there for a while sniffing it all in. It was the only scent I’m sure I got the full intensity of compared to anything else.

A couple of days after Mom and Helen left my taste buds were all out of whack. Nothing was really flavourful and my head felt all fuzzy. Stephen texted to see if I wanted to grab a bite to eat and all I could think of was having the Hot and Sour soup at Ding Tai Fung, in Markham. I could feel Stephen’s resentment as we drove through 45 minutes of rush hour traffic on the 401 just so I could have soup. I swore to him it was the best Hot and Sour soup in the whole GTA and it was going to be worth it. The dumplings were awesome too, I added, but I was really there for the soup. I could taste it in my head and couldn’t wait to have something tasty to eat. The hot brown broth arrived at our table and both of us in sync, we dipped our spoons into our soup bowls then up to our lips. We both looked at each other, at just the same moment and just as I saw Stephen’s face light up from the aroma and spices he first tasted, my face fell to a frown as all I could taste was a faint watered down version of what I was expecting. Stephen, all smiles and delighted with our order asked,

“Ohhh, you can’t taste it? It’s delicious! Sweet, spicy, flavourful. You were right it is worth coming up here for this?” I was a little disappointed and a bit sulky when I told him, I couldn’t fully taste the soup as I reached for more red wine vinegar and pepper from the table. “We’ll have to come back another time when you have all your taste buds again.” Yes, we will.

I had hoped losing my sense of taste would be the worst side effect of chemo. However, the most recent thing to decrease was my white blood cell count. My body temperature climbed to 101 degrees Fahrenheit. All my chemo literature stated to call the doctor if my body temperature reached 100 degrees. After pleading on the phone with the attending weekend oncologist at PMH, to not suggest I spend my Saturday at the emergency room, I was told the fever was an indication of an infection my body was probably not be able to fight. As I was very close to going in for chemo again, it was important to go to the emergency of Toronto General Hospital to take care of the fever and infection aggressively, as soon as possible, before the third chemo treatment.

Begrudgingly, I showed up to The Toronto General Hospital for the second time since I started chemotherapy. This time I didn’t have to wear a mask and sit with the rest of the riff-raff in the emergency waiting room. Instead the triage nurse led me to my own examination room away from any possible germs which might weaken my immune system. I changed into yet another hospital gown and waited on the examination table for a doctor to come by. In the course of 2 hours I was visited by a steady stream of young “hottie” female doctors, interns and 3rd year medicine students from the Internal Medicine Department of TGH. Do all beautiful young women go into studying Internal Medicine?! The first “hottie” doctor explained she needed my blood work to take a count, as the source of a fever in chemo patients is usually a low blood count. If this was the case, which it was, they would have to pump hardcore antibiotics intravenously into my system for the next 48 hours. A nurse (who was a young muslim woman and despite being covered by a head scarf, I could tell, she too was a “hottie”) came in to insert an IV and to draw my blood. I spent several minutes explaining to draw blood from my right arm and to insert the IV in my left if they were going to inject me with any drugs. It seemed like it was a foreign concept to her and I realized how separated the worlds of medicine were from department to department. I explained about my Sentinel lymph nodes removed from my right side and how there was a slight chance fluid might not drain in my right arm if fluid was infused into it but to draw blood was fine. She listened when I told her the nurses at Chemo Daycare would prefer my left arm not to be used for blood work because I had very few large veins which they needed to use to inject me with chemotherapy. She seemed unsure but she did what I told her to.

Felicia came by and waited with me while the young doctors interrogated my physical status and medical history. It was like these young interns were sent on a wild goose chase to figure out what was causing my infection. Did I have any mouth sores? Swollen legs? Meningitis? Difficulty breathing? I answered, no to everything. How was my skin? My skin has actually been beautiful since the start of chemo, no monthly zit break outs and really soft, I quite like the effects chemo had on my skin.  All I had was a headache. So they gave me a chest x-ray…

Some of the same questions were asked again and the same answers were given. In between, Felicia and I had dinner (Chinese take-out) in my examination room and played with the medical equipment which hung on the wall to check ears, noses, and throats. We did all this since 3:30pm. They finally admitted me into a hospital room for the weekend at midnight on Saturday.

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June 2018
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